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Seth Zenz | Imperial College London | UK

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My Crazy Semester: Thesis Writing

Oops, I seem to have done things in the wrong order. The good news is that I have a job lined up for when I graduate. The… challenging… news is that I still have a few things to finish here in Berkeley: little things, like finalizing my analysis and writing my thesis! This has made for a rather busy semester, to say the least.

From the perspective of readers here, though, I’m not going anywhere fast. I will be switching universities, and (gasp!) switching experiments, but in neither case am I going far enough that I fall outside the subject of this blog. I didn’t mean “far enough” too literally, but the distances are about 2500 miles and 5.3 miles respectively.

This gives me lots to write about, so let me start with my thesis. It’s not that much fun. It has two parts: background stuff I have to look up, and describing my analysis in more detail. But it is, I have to admit, probably all wortwhile. The former part is all stuff that’s relevant to my work and I ought to be able to describe off the top of my head — and in fact, I usually can, but not with all the numbers and equations and details just right. The latter part is a good chance to really document what I did in my analysis, which is information that might not be public elsewhere. Maybe someone, someday, will want to look up what I did. Maybe I’ll look it up myself out of nostalgia. Once I get my thesis written at last, though, one thing I’m sure of: I won’t look at it again for a while. I’m already ready to move on!

While I’m working on that, here are some goodies from my thesis. The output of a helpful script I wrote:

Seth-Zenzs-MacBook-Pro:~ sethzenz$ python scripts/thesistimeleft.py

You have 75 days left to file your thesis!!!

It recalculates every day. I could make it send me automatic emails, if I really want to make myself nervous.

And here’s a bit of my (first draft) introduction, which tries to explain how my work fits into the overall context of the LHC program:

The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) was built to produce new particles and rare interactions at a high rate, but its first and foremost byproduct is sprays of low-energy hadrons. At its full design capacity, the LHC will cross proton bunches 31.6 million times per second at each interaction point, with an average of about 20 proton-proton collisions per crossing. Most of these collisions will be “soft” interactions, with relatively little energy exchanged and the outgoing hadrons having relatively little momentum perpendicular to the beam axis. These interactions are described in principle by Quantum Chromodynamics (QCD), the quantum field theory of the strong interactions. In practice, however, they are the most difficult to understand, because the theory becomes non-perturbative at low energies. Predictions can only be made via approximations and phenomenological models. This difficulty with low-energy strong interactions appears even in interactions that are initially well-described by perturbation theory. Outgoing high-energy quarks and gluons quickly “clothe” their strong color charge by evolving into jets of lower-energy hadrons, a process that again requires approximation and modelling.

The LHC’s general-purpose experiments, ATLAS and CMS, are equipped with multi-stage trigger systems that select against these common processes, for example by identifying leptons and missing energy produced in electroweak interactions. However, low-energy QCD still has a significant impact on the physics program in several areas. With so many collisions in each crossing, the most interesting collisions will have many low-energy collisions whose signals in the detector overlap with the objects of interest. In order for their effects to be subtracted, these features of these pileup collisions must be known quantitatively. The evolution of high-energy hadronic jets must also be well-understood. This is partially to account for their contribution as pileup events, but their energy must also be calibrated so they can be studied in their own right. Although even very high-energy jets are relatively common at the LHC, they can also serve as signatures of the decay of new particles.

The quantitative investigation of low-energy QCD is thus a foundational element of the LHC program, which will inform the studies and discoveries of the coming years. Initial low-energy QCD measurements have divided the problem between low-energy events and the study of higher-energy jet properties. In the former case, inclusive charged particle distributions are produced from events identified using a “minimum bias” trigger. In the latter case, higher-energy jets are triggered and studied using the calorimeter system built for the purpose.

This work focuses on the additional information to be gained in the case that the two issues are not-so easily factorized, by studying the emergence of low-energy jets from soft interactions. Particles are identified using the methods of the lowest-energy measurements, but grouped together into jets according to the algorithms used to study jets at higher energies. Low-momentum jets and their properties are measured using the ATLAS Inner Detector, the component of the ATLAS experiment that tracks charged particles, in events identified using the ATLAS Minimum Bias Trigger Scintilators.

That’s very unlikely to be final, but in any case that gives you a picture of the sort of thing I’m working on.


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  • Stephen Brooks

    I hope the original version had a bunch of references! E.g. one whenever you mention a new machine or theory, or make a statement that isn’t obvious from the preceding discussion. (If it did, please ignore this post)

    Just finished my thesis and the examiners like it to be populated with background reading and evidence for what you’re saying, particularly in the early sections before you’ve started deriving facts on your own. Compared to that, whether you’ve carefully copy-edited the English is less important.

  • This is tricky. Some things need references the moment they’re introduced. But this is an introductory section that’s more about context than detail, so I’m inclined to save many references for later. Luckily, the solution is simple: just do whatever my committee thinks is best.